You’ve probably never heard of her, but Taiwanese vegetable seller Chen Shu-chu has done more for the needy than many of the world’s rich and famous. Earning a modest living selling vegetables at the market, the Asian hero has so far managed to donate over $322,000 to various charities.
“Money serves its purpose only when it is used for those who need it,” Chen Shu-chu once told a newspaper, and throughout the years, the dedicated philanthropist made sure her hard earned cash was indeed used for the right causes. Inspired by her own difficult and impoverished childhood, Chen decided to dedicate her life to helping those less fortunate than her. Even though she earned a modest income selling vegetables in Taitung County’s central market, in eastern Taiwan, the 61-year-old led a frugal life and donated almost all of her money to charities. You’d think there wouldn’t be much to give away, but Chen Shu-chu has so far made substantial donations, including $32,000 for a children’s fund, $144,000 to build a library at a school she attended and $32,000 to a local orphanage where she also offers financial support to three children. In total, the world’s most generous vegatable seller has so far donated over $300,000, and she’s not planning on stopping.
But it’s not really the amount of money she has given away that makes Chen Shu-chu a great human being, but her quiet, unassuming style that stands in contrast with many of the world’s publicity-seeking rich and powerful who only make donations when cameras or reporters are around. The modest vegetable seller doesn’t bask in her celebrity, saying “There isn’t much to talk about, because I did not enter any competition”. It’s this kind of attitude that made Time Magazine include her in the Top 100 most influential people of 2010, and won her the title of Hero of Philanthropy by Forbes Asia.
Born in 1950, Chen Shu-chu lost her mother shortly after completing her primary school education. The older of her brothers she had to grow up before her time and help her father take care of the family. When she was 18, her brother got sick and the illness dragged on for several years, slowly depleting the family savings. Although they received donations from locals, her brother could not be saved, but the kindness bestowed upon her family by others inspired her to help the poor as soon as she was able. After her father past away, leaving Chen their only source of income, a vegetable stand at the central market, the Taiwanese philanthropist adopted a frugal lifestyle and began donating all her profits to worthy causes. Her vegetable stand is everything to her. She wakes up at three in the morning and makes her way to the market where she remains until seven or eight in the evening. She is the first one to arrive and last one to leave, which convinced other stall owners to give her the title of “market manager”.
Chen Shu-chu’s donations have made many ask themselves how a mere vegetable seller who makes marginal profits can donate so much money? “Spend only what you need, and you’ll be able to save up a lot of money!” Chen says. She lives a very modest life, without any luxuries. She doesn’t have any desire for material gain and says work is her only form of enjoyment. She says all she needs is work and a place to sleep, everything else is a luxury.
Chen’s achievements are legendary all around Asia and the power of her example is simply amazing. There has been an increasing number of stories about people and children who have quietly been donating what they could to help the poor and many of them have sad they have been inspired by Chen Shu-chu’s story.